Jimmy Fallon's Giddy Donald Trump Interview Was a Joke, but What Did We Expect?

Donald Trump
Jimmy Fallon giddily tousled Donald Trump's hair Thursday night on the 'Tonight Show.' YouTube

The media has been wringing its hands for more than a year, trying to figure out how to challenge Donald Trump while still retaining journalistic integrity. Where does aggressive fact-checking end and bias begin? So far, reporters have for the most part played it safe, and now we're less than two months away from the former Apprentice star potentially taking over the White House.

The latest high-profile failure of the press came during NBC's "Commander-in-Chief Forum," during which Matt Lauer lobbed softball after softball to Trump and failed to call him out for blatantly lying about his stance on the Iraq War. Afterward, Lauer was widely maligned for letting Trump off the hook. Trump was back on NBC Thursday night, sitting next to Jimmy Fallon, perhaps the only bigger clown in America than Trump himself. Here he is tousling Trump's hair. Very cute.

Donald Trump

How about a closeup of Trump's face? Notice Fallon's face contorting in ecstasy to the right side of the frame.

Donald Trump

The internet was quick to react...

TRUMP: Today my family and I insulted blacks, Jews, women, the press & food safety.
FALLON: Awesome. Hey, hold this banana like it's a phone

— Owen Ellickson (@onlxn) September 16, 2016

Trump: Touch it Jimmy, and you will see the shades that dance in hell's groaning abyss
Fallon: [giggles] Like this? pic.twitter.com/t0AYy8yNZB

— Sean O'Neal (@seanoneal) September 16, 2016

hitler: i will round them up. i will put them in ovens

fallon: ur mustache is funny haha im gonna pet it *the crowd is going fuckin nuts*

— Brandon Wardell (@BRANDONWARDELL) September 16, 2016

Fallon and Trump exchanged words as well, with Fallon smiling overeagerly the entire time. He asked Trump why kids should want to grow up to be president; if the candidate pays attention to the polls; and, oddly, if he uses his business background to help him target certain demographics, a half-baked question that Trump essentially scoffed at.

The only tidbits to come out of the interview that could be considered at all newsworthy were Trump's comments about the upcoming first presidential debate, which will be moderated by NBC's Lester Holt. After praising Lauer's performance at the "Commander-in-Chief Forum," Trump pre-emptively blamed NBC for whatever may go wrong for him at the debate. "They're trying to make it so that Lester is going to come out and really be tough on me, and I think it's unfair," he said. "They're trying to game the system."

Trump then seriously suggested not having a moderator at all, an idea that, well, we shouldn't have to discuss seriously.

So people seem to be upset with Fallon for all of this, but what else should have been expected? Did anyone really think Fallon was going to be tough on Trump? He can't even be tough on Kevin James. Hair tousling aside, his performance Thursday night was far less objectionable than that of Lauer, who was supposed to be conducting a serious interview. Playing grabass and lobbing softballs is precisely what Fallon's Tonight Show is about, so it's hard to blame him for failing to press Trump on the issues.

This doesn't make it right, though. The interview was an easy example of America normalizing Trump's hate. It even provided us with a specific moment, the hair tousling, on which to focus our rage. But Fallon is not to be taken seriously. It is the media at large that has normalized Trump in a far more pernicious way than Fallon did on Thursday night.